Hekaba 953-1186

Hecuba Blinding PolymnestorPolymestor:
Oh, Priamos, dearest of men, and you dearest
Hekaba, I weep when I behold you and the city and
she born of you, so recently dead.
there is nothing trustworthy, not good repute
nor again, that he acting nobly will not fare poorly.
These gods confound the present and the future,
inspiring confusion, so that we in our ignorance
might worship them. But must one for all this
sing a dirge, and make no progress in advance of misfortune?
And you, if you should blame anything for my absence,
do hold; for I happened to be away amid the borders
of Threka when you came hither; and when I arrived,
already taking my feet from my houses
at the same place, thy slave here fell in with me
speaking your words, which when I heard, I arrived.
I am ashamed look upon you face to face,
Polymestor, laid among such misfortunes.
For, by one whom I was seen faring well, shame holds me
having chanced upon this lot such as I now am,
and I could not look upon you with a steady gaze.
But you will not consider this ill-will for thee,
Polymestor: the cause is otherwise, and a certain custom,
that a woman is not to look upon the face of men.
Even this is no wonder. But what need have you of me?
For what matter have you summoned my feet from my house?
On a certain personal matter of my own to you I wish
to speak, and to thy children; your attendants,
do bid them stand away, apart from this dwelling.
[to his attendants] Withdraw; for this lonely spot is safe enough.
You are a friend, and further friendly to me
is this campaign of Achaians. But you must make it clear;
What should a man who fares well, for those not faring well,
for his friends, do to help? Just as I am here at hand.
First, tell me of the child whom from my hand,
and from his father you have in your house—Polydoros,
if he lives; and then I shall question you for the rest.
Certainly; as far as that one, you have a share of good fortune.
Oh dearest man, you speak so well and worthily of thee.
What then would you wish to learn from me next?
Does he remember anything of me, of she who bore him?
Indeed, since, hidden, he sought to come to you here.
And is the gold safe, which he had when he came from Troia?
It is safe, gaurded in my palace.
Keep it safe now, and do not lust after that of your neighbours.
Not in the least! May I have the delight of my present circumstance, dear lady.
Do you know, then, what I wish to say to you, and to your children?
I know not; you will show it by your word.
It is this, oh you who has been loved, as you are now beloved to me . . .
What matter is it that is necessary for me and my children to see?
Ancient vaults of gold, of the ancestors of Priamos, sunk in the earth.
Is this what you planned to show thy child?
Certainly, through you, at least; for you are a pious man.
Why then did you require the presence of my children?
It is best, should you die, that they know this too.
You speak well, and in this there is much cunning.
Do you know, then, where the hall of Athana of Ilios is?
The gold is there? What marks is?
A black stone rises over the earth.
What, then, do you yet wish to show to me of that place?
I wish for you to keep safe the wealth which I brought with me.
Indeed! Where is it? In your garment or have you hidden it?
It is kept among the heap of spoils in these roofs.
Where? This covering fence gives anchorage to the Achaians!
There are halls for the privacy of the captive women.
Is it safe within, and separate from the men?
There are no Achaians within, but only us women.
But enter the dwelling: for truly, the Argeians long
to loose the sails of their ship homeward from Troia;
when you have done all that is required of you, let ye go back
with your children where truly you have transplanted by offspring.
You have not yet given, but soon you will give justice;
without any safe harbour when you fall into bilge-water,
cross-wise you will fall from your heart’s desire,
for having robbed life. For a liability
does not fall in with Justice and the gods;
destruction brings destruction and harm.
It will deceive you, the hope of this path which has led you
to deadly Haides, alas, wretched man!
You will shed your life by an unwarlike hand.
(from within) Woe! I am blinded! Wretched light of my eyes!
Hear the lamentation of a Threkan man, dear ladies!
— Woe! More again! My children! By unhappy slaughter!
Dear ladies, fresh misfortunes are accomplished within the dwelling.
— But do not yet flee on nimble foot:
— For striking I shall break into the innermost chamber of this dwelling!
Behold! The dart chases after the greivous hand.
Would you have us fall upon him? The moment calls us
to be present for Hekaba, and allies for Troian ladies.
Smite him! Spare nothing! Cast him out the gate!
For never again will you have the light of sight in your eyes,
nor see your living children whom I have killed.
Indeed have you put down the Threkan, and prevailed over the good host,
mistress, and have you done just as much as you say?
See him forthwith, coming presently before the dwelling,
a blind man on blind, staggering foot,
the bodies of two children, whom I have killed
with these finest Troian ladies: they have done
justice for me. The man, as you see, proceeds from the dwelling.
But I shall depart out of the way, so as to be absent
from his unstoppable, stampeding anger.

Oh woe is me! Where might I step?
Where might I stand? Where might I find a haven?
As the step of a four-footed beast of the mountains
shall the tracks I lay thus be for my wages? To this sort
of place or that shall I turn,
in my need to lay hold of the man-slayers of Ilios,
who have utterly desroyed me?
Wretched maidens, wretched of Phrygia,
oh abominable women,
to what nook do you cringe in flight from me?
If only the blood-flushed sockets of my eyes,
o Helios, you would heal, cure my blindness,
as you pull the light hither and thither.
Ah! Ah!
Silence: I detect a hidden step
here, of women. Where, having made a hasty step,
might I be filled with their flesh and bone,
making them the feast of wild beasts,
winning maiming
as recompense for my mutilation? Oh wretched women.
But where oh where am I headed, having left my children alone
for Bacchae of Haides to rend asunder,
slaughtered, and for dogs a banquet, bloody,
and savage, cast out in the mountains.
Where might I stay, turn, step,
like a ship anchored in the seas, furling
my flaxen sheet, to rush upon this
deathly nest as a guardian of my children?
Oh wretched man, what grievous harm was wrought by you;
the wages to he who works shameful deeds are frightful.
Whatever divinity who has bestowed thus upon you is a burden.
Alas, ho spearmen of Threka, armed,
horsemen, ye nation inspired by Ares!
Ho Achaians! —Ho son of Atreus! A cry, a cry, I shout a cry!
Oh be here! Come by all the gods!

Does anyone hear or will no-one help? Why do you hesitate?

The women have destroyed me, the captive women; fearsome,
fearsome things have we suffered.

Alas! The outrage against me!
Where shall I betake myself? Where shall I be conveyed?
Wretched, will I dart
flying away skyward
to the lofty hall,
where Orion or Sirius, send forth burning
rays of fire from their eyes, or to the ferry for
dark-skinned Hades?
It is pardonable, when someone suffers evils too mighty
to bear, that he free himself from his wretched life.
I came because I heard screaming; for the not silent
child of the mountain rock has rung through the army,
Echo, who gives rise to clamour; If I did not know
that the Phrygian towers had fallen to the spears of the Hellenes,
this clamour, no middling din, would furnish fear.
Oh dearest man, for I perceive you, Agamemnon,
I heard your voice; do you see what I suffer?
My god!
Polymestor, oh unfortunate man, who has destroyed you?
Who made your eyes blind, filled your sockets with blood,
and killed your children? A great wrath indeed
they must hold against you and your children, whoever it was.
Hekaba with the captive women has
destroyed me—no, not destroyed but something worse.
What do you say? Have you done the deed, as he says?
Hekaba, did you dare this inconceivable outrage?
What! What are you saying? Is she indeed somewhere nearby?
Show me! Tell me where she is so that I may seize her,
and tear her apart and stain my flesh with her blood.
This thing, why was it done to you?
Before the gods, I beg you
Permit me to launch my ravenous hands at her!
Hold. Cast aside the barbarian urge of your heart
and tell, so that I may hear from you and from her in turn,
and judge rightly for what reason it was that you suffered this.
Then I shall speak. There was a certain boy, the youngest of Priamos,
Polydoros, child of Hekaba, whom from Troia to me
his father, Priamos, did give to be raised in my house,
being suspicious of a Troian conquest.
I killed this boy; for the reason I killed him,
listen, it was well and with wise forethought.
I feared lest the child, left behind and hostile to you,
muster and once again unite Troia,
and the Achaians, if they knew that one lived of the sons of Priamos,
they might again raise armament against the land of the Phrygians,
and then, they would wear out these plains of Threka,
plundering them, and it would be a harm for the neighbours
of the Troians; indeed, it is in this present situation, my lord, we have been wearying.

Now Hekaba, knowing of the death of her only son,
by such word as this led me away, that she would reveal
in Ilios hidden chests of Priamos,
of his gold; she led me alone with my children inside
her dwelling, so no other man might know this.
So I bend my knee in the midst, take seat of a couch;
and many hands, some on this side of me,
and others on that, as indeed with a friend, maidens of Troia
holding council, the weaver’s shuttle of Edonian hand
they did praise, examining my cloak here under the light;
and others, gazing upon the Thracian shaft of my spear
thus left me stripped of my equipment two-fold.
As many as had borne young, marvelling with wonder
they swayed my children in their arms, so that they might be
at a distance from their father, exchanging them by a succession of hands;
and then, from the serenity—can you believe it?—of their salutations,
all a sudden, they took up swords from their robes whence
they stabbed my children, and they, like enemy warriors,
they snatched, they pinned, they held my arms
and legs; I longed to defend my children
but if I lifted my face
they held my hair, and if I moved my arms,
a wretched man had no effect against so many women.
And at the last, calamity filled with calamity,
a frightful deed was wrought:
taking their brooches, my suffering pupils
they stabbed, they bloodied; and then through the hall,
they rose and fled; from this I sprang up,
like a wild beast, I pursue the murderous bitches,
tracking every nook and cranny like a hunter
striking and snarling; thus have I suffered
by being zealous for your favour, for killing your enemy,
Agamemnon. And so as not to lengthen a long story,
if any of those before were to speak badly of a woman,
or if there is anyone presently speaking, or is about to speak,
I shall reveal this to curtail everything:
for neither the sea not the earth nourished a race
of this sort: as anyone who ever encounters them knows.
Do not be so bold, nor by your misfortune
cast blame on the whole female race, summed thus together.
[ For there are many of us, and while some are hateful,
we others have brought forth to the count of the bad. ]1

1. There is clearly some corruption of these two lines, and they may be a an interpolation. They don’t make sense as they are.

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